Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Vocabulary, humor in

Have you noticed how some words inspire a grin, maybe even a laugh? There may be no discernible reason for the humor. A word or phrase is often amusing only to a group, something that reminds them of a shared experience.

Our family has a few of these, as most families do. For example, the phrase "nut roll" is invoked when a family member doesn't hear what another person has said, and we smile, all because of a short yet memorable incident that occurred at a Colorado truck stop during a summer road trip.

One of our favorite words came up last night after we booked airline tickets with Midwest Airlines. I clicked on the Baggage tab to see what the Checked Baggage Fees would be and there, as I scrolled down the list, was an item that made me laugh loudly enough that Ken came into the room to see what was up. Here is the list:

Oversized Baggage
Charges will apply to items such as bicycles, scuba gear, surfboards, etc.
. $50 each way (nonstop or connect) for each bicycle.
. $75 each way (nonstop or connect) for each piece 63"-110".
. $100 each way (nonstop or connect) for antlers.


What is this, Fawlty Towers? Out of the blue, here was a word that is hilarious to all of the Lees. It's funny, of course, to find such an odd thing itemized in a baggage list. I would really like to know what happened in the past to cause the airline to give a set of antlers its very own fee. Perhaps (could it be true?) enough people travel with antlers that it warranted having a stated fee for them. Johnny Carson occasionally invited airline workers to display some of the things people had attempted to check as luggage. A 7-foot potted palm tree was one of those items so antlers may not be that unusual. But...why...?

We used to play a game, long ago when our kids were much younger, a game in which two people would stand and face one another. The players would take turns saying a single word while remaining expressionless. The goal was to find a word that would make the other person smile. Someone once won the game with the word 'antlers.' Why is it such an entertaining word? Who knows? For us, it just is. It's even funnier if we see it in print. That oversize baggage list was a double whammy, coming across it so unexpectedly.

It's the little things, apparently, that make my day.

Overheard on Twitter: I love the word "obfuscate" and I wish I had more reason to use it in my everyday life.

Next time: who knows? Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Pessimistic Idealist

Have you ever ordered a book on a whim, where something about the book - a review, a mention in a novel - catches your eye and you think Hm, I'd like to read that? That is how I ended up with The H. G. Wells Reader. I found it in my cubby just before I left for WLA and wondered why it was there. Had I really requested this? I'd already read "The Time Machine" and "The Invisible Man," years ago, and we'd seen "The Island of Doctor Moreau" at Taproot Theater. I considered myself well and truly finished with H. G. Wells. And yet, the Reader was in my cubby, my name on the Hold slip. I checked it out, took it home, and thought no more about it.

I was tidying up the living room on Thursday and discovered the Reader buried beneath a pile of National Geographics. Oh. Right. I picked it up, still puzzled over why I'd requested it. It wasn't until I looked at the table of contents that all was made clear. I couldn't remember exactly where I'd read about it, but somebody, somewhere, had included the Wells novelette "A History of Mr. Polly" (publ. 1910) in a list. The list had intrigued me - I have no idea why - and this title in particular had stood out as a must-read. The only KRL copy of the novelette was within the Reader, so that's what I ordered. Mystery solved.

I finished "A History of Mr. Polly" in two bedtime readings. H. G. Wells is an enigma to me. How could someone write so pessimistically and yet with such humor and hope? The story follows Mr. Polly from childhood through early middle age. Some passages were heavy going with long, convoluted sentences, the sort that one thinks what? and must reread to capture the point. I'll admit right here that I skimmed a bit along the way but it was a surprisingly good read. Wells captures human nature so poignantly, especially when the character is deeply conflicted about his dreams and the reality he's actually living.

This may seem odd, but I was reminded of Twain and Wodehouse while reading about Mr. Polly. There were unexpected and perfect phrases, understated descriptions that said much more than was actually written. An example: "...Mr. Polly went out early and reappeared with a purchase, a safety bicycle, which he proposed to study and master in the sandy lane below the Johnson's house. But over the struggles that preceded his mastery it is humane to draw a veil." That second sentence says everything and nothing, letting me fill in the blank, having already been given an understanding of Mr. Polly's history and personality. Alas for Mr. Polly.

There's another bit that made me laugh. Mr. Polly ends up at a riverside inn and stays to help the landlady. Uncle Jim is an outlaw family member whom the landlady fears. Jim shows up and warns off Mr. Polly: "I jest want to have a (decorated) word wiv you. See? Just a friendly word or two. Just to clear up any bloomin' errors. That's all I want. No need to be so (richly decorated) proud..."

See how funny that is? Who needs asterisks? I never knew H. G. Wells could write like that.

There are a couple of other excerpts and short stories in this Reader. Once I've read those, I shall consider my time with Mr. Wells complete.

Overheard on Twitter: Why is it the only men who have their phones attached to their belts are the ones who don't need extra attention drawn to their waistline?

Next time: still pondering WLA. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A bit about the WLA conference

I left a week ago for Victoria. A week ago! My plan was to blog throughout the conference but that didn't happen and now I'm sifting through all of my notes and experiences, wondering which would be the most interesting bits to write about.

How about the Meet And Greet? Nope. That's only interesting if you participated. It was fun meeting people from wildly divergent library backgrounds, many of them attending the PNLA side of the conference.

The Registration Table? Again, not much beyond the satisfaction of welcoming attendees and making sure they had everything they needed. However, there was one thing...some of us had ribbons attached to our badges, identifying us as volunteers, IG Chairs, speakers, and etc. The volunteers could have an additional ribbon, our choice, and some of those choices were really funny, like "I Read Your Email", "Plays Well With Others", "Runs With Scissors", and so on. My ribbon was "My Ribbon Is Better than Yours." There was rampant Ribbon Envy - a lot of us wanted "Plays Well With Others" but that one ran out quickly. The leftover ribbon that nobody wanted: "Go Green."

The Authors? Oh my, yes.

Robert Sawyer, the keynote speaker, was so thought-provoking (I took notes, at a breakfast!) that I must now read one of his books. I read a lot of sci-fi back in the 1970s and have read almost nothing in that genre since then (a Robert Sawyer book will be a good dip in the sci-fi pool.) He spoke about the need for libraries to embrace societal changes, to find the areas that make us relevant, suggesting that our most important relevancy will involve being a community space for people. That was a key topic showing up in three different sessions I attended; it reminded me of all that KRL brainstorming about becoming the "heart of the community." (Offering table dances was one of the suggestions.)

Mr. Sawyer also pointed out that Mr. Spock, Science Officer, was the U.S.S. Enterprise's reference librarian. This was big news to all of us and he's right. Whenever Captain Kirk needed to know something, who did he turn to? Spock, who immediately went to his computer, accessed his electronic databases, and always, always, found the correct information. The Reference Desk will never be quite the same old desk for me.

Karen Cushman spoke at the CAYAS breakfast. I've loved her books ever since Cheryl, my first Branch Manager, handed Catherine, Called Birdy to me and said "You will love this book." It's a book I recommend to adults who are looking for a nice, no-surprises (i.e. sex, language) story. I forced our book group to read it and they loved it as much as I do.


Ms. Cushman told us her story, the wandering path that she took to becoming an author, and what a path it was! She spoke of (among many things) the influence that books and her neighborhood library had in her childhood, throughout her schooling, and as an adult. What a engaging and humorous speaker! Her voice is there, in her books. I must reread Catherine soon.

Clyde Ford was our final speaker, sharing his thoughts at the Friday evening banquet. Again, here's an author whose books I need to explore. That happens nearly every time I'm present at an author talk. The books become infused with the personal experience of hearing the author. Mr. Ford writes mysteries set in the San Juans, another plus. There's nothing like reading about an incident in a book and knowing, seeing in my mind's eye, exactly where that place is.

Authors, in person. One of the many good things a conference offers.

Overheard on Twitter: Wedgies. You can expect them. But somehow, you are never fully prepared.

Next time: other conference stuff, possibly, but probably not. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

WLA conference, day one: Getting There, continued

After doing a quick internal debrief of my entertaining taxi ride, I headed into the Victoria Clipper terminal. I'd never been on the Clipper but had heard it was a relaxing way to travel to Victoria, with friendly staff and beautiful scenery. The staff certainly lived up to the glowing reviews. Calm reigned, despite the masses of people confirming reservations and checking luggage. I surrendered to the luxury of checking one of my bags, then moved on to the waiting area.

The young woman checking boarding passes asked if I'd like to pre-board, an offer most likely prompted by my cane. You bet I would! My remaining bag was a little awkward and I had planned to board last to avoid being a nuisance (I hate the feeling that people are impeded by me when I'm slowed down by something.) The pre-board offer was too good to pass up.

I enjoyed the trip and would recommend the Clipper to everyone. The only thing that was less than perfect was something beyond the crew's control - we were in heavy fog until the final ten minutes of our trip. No scenery for us! Ah well.

The best part of the journey was listening to snippets of other people's conversations. One couple was especially interesting. They were doing a crossword puzzle together to pass the time and were pondering some of the clues aloud. Two snippets that I had to capture in my notebook:

"The clue is 'member of the carrot family', with five letters. Would that be 'onion'?"

"Ok, the next one is 'goes by quickly', six letters starting with 's'. . . (pause) . . . I bet it's 'summer'." (I desperately wanted to suggest 'speeds'.)

- - - - - - -

It's early evening. I've covered a two-hour shift at the registration table, an assignment that gave me the chance to find other attendees from KRL. Now I am about to prepare the SAM table for the Meet And Greet. SAM, in case you don't know, is the interest group for Supervisors, Administrators, and Managers. It's not all that exciting as interest groups go, especially if you compare us to an IG like CAYAS - Children and Young Adult Services (CAYAS is pronounced 'chaos'.) CAYAS is a total hoot of an IG. But SAM can hold its own at the Meet And Greet. It should be a fine evening.

Overheard on Twitter: Hear me out: a bike, but instead of bike wheels, it has ROLLERBLADES. One boot in the front, one boot in the back.

Next time: day two of the conference. Stay tuned.

WLA Conference, day one: Getting There

I’ve had the good fortune to attend several conferences in the last nine years. Most of my conference travel has been in carpools. Those have always been excellent opportunities for getting to know other staff because there’s plenty of time for meandering conversations. This year, however, I am traveling solo and it has been an adventure of sorts, involving a car, two ferries, a bus, two taxis, the Victoria Clipper, and good walking shoes.

The first Seattle taxi ride was mostly uneventful. I had planned to spend the night at our son's apartment, so he met me downtown. We flagged a cab, gave him the address, and off we went. It was immediately apparent that the driver wasn't familiar with where we wanted to go. We ended up giving him detailed directions to an area that we had assumed he would know. Cherry Street is a major arterial, after all. But it was no problem, just a minor surprise.

The next morning, I called Yellow Cab to request a pickup. All was arranged and I awaited the cab’s call, which came right on time. It took a couple of minutes to get out the door (pulling two small, rolling cases and using a cane.) My phone rang. It was the driver.

“Are you coming?” he asked.
"Yes, I'll be right there," I replied.
In less than ten seconds, my phone rang again. It was the Yellow Cab dispatcher.

"The driver says you aren't there."
"I am there. I just have to get out to the street."
"Ok. Have a nice trip."
Almost immediately, my phone rang a third time. Are you kidding me, I thought.

"Are you coming?" asked the driver.
"Yes, you should be able to see me. I'm just a little slow getting down the stairs."
"What stairs?"
"What do you mean, what stairs? The stairs in front of the building."
"There are no stairs here."

A puzzled pause.

"What address do you have for me?" I asked.

The wrong one, seriously wrong. He was on the north side of downtown, I was in the Central District. We parried, he and I, over where I was supposed to be. (Did I mention that he had a thick East Indian accent? Not helpful, especially on a cell phone.) I called the Yellow Cab dispatcher to redirect the driver, who arrived within minutes. He loaded my bags into the trunk and we zoomed off to the Victoria Clipper.

I apologized for the confusion over the address, although I lived in Seattle for years and therefore knew quite well how to give a correct Seattle address. I was rewarded with a curt tutorial on Seattle streets and how addresses are organized. He was really starting to riff on this theme when he was interrupted by his cell phone; a heated, earnest discussion took place (in his native tongue) with who was clearly the Yellow Cab dispatcher. He ended the call. The rest of the journey was silent.

We finally pulled up to the Clipper. He helped me out of the cab and took my bags to the sidewalk, smiling, eerily friendly, and wished me a pleasant journey.

He did not receive a tip.

Overheard on Twitter: lead pipe wielding maniac? lead pipe-wielding maniac? lead-pipe-wielding maniac?

Next time: Day One continued - The Victoria Clipper. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Moan

My Twitter account has been odd this evening, mostly due to Epic Retweeting on the part of one of the people I follow, a librarian in England. Thanks to her, I have received announcements from Heathrow Airport chronicling some transit issues. (It's reassuring to know that all is well once again with Heathrow's express train service.) I received seventeen, count 'em, seventeen retweets about a buzzard that showed up in a garden, all posted within a 30-second period. And she retweeted, verbatim, the garbage chute scene from the original Star Wars film.

So mystifying. Was it a slow day at the Reference Desk, there in the U.K.? It was tempting to bleat about this to Ken, but he's working on his Nutrition studies and wouldn't offer much in the way of commiseration. So I've shared my petty annoyance here. But there's a funny side to it, too. Someone else, completely unconnected to the previous retweeter, tweeted: Why does everything have to be about Star Wars all the time? Can't we all decide on another cultural touchstone?

Did I mention that I follow Darth Vader on Twitter? He had nothing to do with any of the stuff I've mentioned.

In other news, literally, here's a newspaper article to warm the hearts of grammar nerds everywhere, thanks to a tweet from GrammarGirl.

Twitter seems to have become the unintentional theme of this blogpost.

...Overheard on Twitter: Oh man SIGN ME UP IMMEDIATELY

Next time: something that has nothing to do with Twitter, I promise. Stay tuned.